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Asthma Health Center

Treating Asthma in Children

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Step 1 -- Identifying and Controlling Asthma Triggers continued...

Outdoor controls

  • When mold or pollen counts are high, give your child medications recommended by your doctor (usually an antihistamine like Zyrtec or Claritin) before going outdoors.
  • After playing outdoors, the child should bathe and change clothes.
  • Drive with the car windows shut and air conditioning on during mold and pollen seasons.
  • Don't let a child mow the grass or rake leaves.

In some cases, the doctor may recommend immunotherapy, a way of gradually improving your child’s tolerance of allergens that bother him, when control measures and medications are not effective. Speak with your child's doctor about these options.

Step 2 -- Anticipating and Preventing Asthma Flare-Ups

Patients with asthma have chronic inflammation of their airways. Inflamed airways are "twitchy" and tend to constrict (or narrow) whenever they are exposed to a trigger (such as infection or an allergen). Some children with asthma may have increased inflammation in the lungs and airways every day without knowing it. Their breathing may sound normal and wheeze-free when their airways are actually narrowing and becoming inflamed, making them prone to a flare-up. To better assess a child's breathing and determine risk for an asthma attack (or flare-up), breathing tests may be helpful. Breathing tests measure the volume and speed of air as it is exhaled from the lungs. Asthma specialists make several measurements with a spirometer, a computerized machine that takes detailed measurements of breathing ability.

At home, a peak flow meter (a hand-held tool that measures breathing ability) can be used to measure airflow although it's usually used only for those with severe asthma. When peak flow readings drop, airway inflammation may be increasing. The peak flow meter can detect even subtle airway inflammation and obstruction, even when your child feels fine. 

Another way to know when a flare is brewing is to look for early warning signs. These signs are little changes in a child that signal medication adjustments may be needed (as directed in a child's individual asthma management plan) to prevent a flare. Early warning signs may indicate a flare hours or even a day before the appearance of obvious flare symptoms (such as wheezing and coughing). Children can develop changes in appearance, mood, or breathing, or they may say they "feel funny" in some way. Early warning signs are not always definite proof that a flare is coming, but they are signals to plan ahead, just in case. It can take some time to learn to recognize these little changes, but over time, recognizing them becomes easier.

Parents with very young children who can't talk often find early warning signs very helpful in predicting and preventing attacks. And early warning signs can be helpful for older children and even teenagers because they can learn to sense little changes in themselves. If they are old enough, they can adjust medication by themselves according to the asthma management plan, and if not, they can ask for help.

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